The prospect of a double-dip recession in the United States and around the world looms daily in the minds of those individuals toiling in the machinations of federal and state fiscal policy; we hear it in the debates on taxes, we see it in the stubborn nature of the unemployment figures, and the shape of it remains coiled somewhere between the characterizations of Main Street and Wall Street - but the business of business limps on.
It is in this uncertain environment that one can look at a company like Cisco
- a maker of communications hardware that is widely considered an economic bellwether - and can examine also the experimental nature of the digital advertising landscape and Cisco's place in that landscape. The digital publishing community is in a continual state of innovation, spurred on most dramatically by the Web 2.0 phenomenon of social media.
These observations - one of a company that sells to other companies and one of a somewhat volatile and morphing marketing communications environment - may offer insights on what is and what is to come, particularly when both are put together.
With this confluence in mind, Petra Neiger - a digital marketer with Cisco, specializing in social media - agreed to my interview. Petra is passionate about her work, and is the voice behind the blog, A Digital Marketers Guide
. She is based in Cisco's San Jose headquarters.
KREBS: As economic indicators remain shaky, are you changing your marketing mix in any specific manner to entice your customers to invest?
NEIGER: Cisco is a customer-centric company, and maintaining strong relationships and communication with our valued customers will always be a major priority. Regardless of the economic climate, Cisco has a myopic focus on partnering very closely with our customers and providing them with technologies and architectures that will enable them to be successful in the long-term.
KREBS: Marketers have experienced a great deal of change since the start of the recession. What is the most fundamental change you have seen, and how are you taking advantage of it?
NEIGER: We've all been asked to do more with less over the last couple of years, as have most companies. With the rise in social media and new alternative approaches to marketing, we have been able to embark on a new journey of conversational marketing that has strengthened our relationships with key customers and partners. Externally, this means that the downturn in a way has forced marketers to rethink the way we launch products and solutions, and engage with our target audience beyond traditional activities. It has sparked innovation.
Thankfully, we are seeing social media as a way to extend our reach and create conversations with our customers, partners and influencers. Senior marketing executives in the Cisco Service Provider Marketing Organization challenged our team to deliver a high-profile launch on a modest budget compared to the budget the team had for a similar product introduction years before. The result: a widely successful Cisco ASR 1000 series router campaign attracting over 7,000 IPTV launch webcast registrations and significant press coverage at a significantly lower cost than the cost of the previous major launch. This was the turning point for us and forever changed the way we conduct launches at Cisco. But we can’t stop at launches. We’re increasingly moving toward and integrating virtual components into everything we do: events, programs, and simple day-to-day marketing.
In addition to employing social media tools and applications externally, we have also adopted these technologies to our internal communications. Collaboration tools such as TelePresence, WebEx, internal wikis and blogs are widely used within Cisco to keep each other up to date on project progress, and share best practices and other information.
Video and visual information sharing have become a significant tool for us to help bring a human touch into our communications. This can be as simple as posting Flip video footage on internal and external locations or adding video to our blogs. In fact, today over 25% of our blogs are video blogs and we have found that people engage 5 times longer on our blogs and on Cisco.com that have videos. If you can’t reach somebody in person, video is the next best thing. Not only does it help humanize the company, but depending on how you use video, it can also help create instant discussions. Hosting web chats on our Talk2Cisco platform or exchanging information via TelePresence are ways we’re increasingly looking to harness the power of video.
KREBS: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are the most well known social media properties for B2B advertisers. How do you utilize these environments? What are the success metrics in social media versus more traditional media? Are there other social marketing environments that have worked for you?
NEIGER: Cisco believes that social media is most successful when it’s part of a larger initiative. It should not be conducted in a vacuum, nor should it be used merely periodically. I call the latter “peaks and valleys” marketing. You use social media when you have a launch or event coming up to help promote your program and then go quiet. Social media is a nice way to augment your traditional efforts, and marketers should always look for integration opportunities – on and off the web. Integration can be as simple as adding your Twitter handle to a newsletter article or as involved as placing your live social media feeds on your corporate pages or creating social media-infused online events. In addition to connecting the dots between social and traditional marketing, marketers should also make sure that they are using their various social platforms together. Cross-linking and cross-referencing are the easiest way to achieve that.
We’re mainly using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and our highly active Cisco blog platforms. Some groups now have presence on our myCiscoCommunity platform, which hosts our community pages. Today, we participate to a lesser extent on LinkedIn and SlideShare, however, these are two networks we see value in and are looking to integrate more. And we’re always experimenting with new platforms and applications, for example geo-location. We use these platforms in different ways: we aim to share, converse, and motivate with contests and other fun activities, and we nurture.
It’s hard to give a black and white answer to what the success metrics are in social media. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish so your measurement framework should be tied to your objectives. When we first ventured into social media marketing with the Cisco ASR 1000 series launch, we benchmarked our first program against traditional marketing metrics. However, as we continue to evolve in our use of social media, we’re starting to look at our metrics differently. We are starting to look at our results over time instead of just at a certain point in time to help uncover trends, and we have invested in measurement and analytics tools to help further quantify and understand our results.
As a rule of thumb, however, I would say that marketers should continually assess their progress over time and use qualitative as well as quantitative feedback to get a complete the picture.
KREBS: What advice would you give to online news publishers on how to provide meaningful social media extensions?
NEIGER: This is a great question. Providing social media services that leverage your knowledge of your users could be a valuable tool for marketers. I’m mainly thinking of group and blog profiles here. If you are hosting groups and blogs on your pages, then creating a portfolio that helps marketers target and engage with the right audience through moderated discussions, joint company and editorial content, or just help bring the relevant people and marketer closer to each other can be powerful if offered at the right price.
Maybe consider organizing TweetUps in different parts of the country to extend your online relationships offline and connect your advertisers and readers. Combine that with advertising opportunities that allow marketers to sponsor a section of your web site featuring the company’s social media links and maybe even live feeds can be an interesting solution.
If I want to take this thought one step further, maybe integrating a social media feed or content ad unit package into your general advertising offerings could be explored. By social content ad units I mean interactive polls or other quick interactive applications that companies can sponsor on the relevant sections of your site to gather information could be another interesting value proposition. You know who is on your site, you know their digital behavior and you have the platform, i.e. web site. An offering, or a series of offerings, that brings these things together can pique marketers’ interest.